Libya’s new interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah will be sworn in Monday to lead the war-torn country’s transition to elections in December, after years of chaos and division.
The North African nation descended into conflict after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, resulting in multiple forces vying for power.
A United Nations-supervised process is aimed at uniting the country, building on an October ceasefire between rival administrations in the country’s east and west.
Dbeibah, selected at UN-sponsored talks in February alongside an interim three-member presidency council, will take the oath of office in the eastern city of Tobruk.
More than 1,000 kilometres (630 miles) from the capital Tripoli in the west, Tobruk has been the seat of Libya’s elected parliament since 2014.
Dbeibah’s swearing-in comes after parliament last week approved his cabinet, in a move hailed by key leaders and foreign powers as “historic”.
His government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with the key foreign affairs and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
“This will be the government of all Libyans,” Dbeibah said after the vote. “Libya is one and united.”
– Foreign ‘spoilers’ –
Dbeibah’s administration is expected to replace both the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, and a parallel cabinet headquartered in the east, under the de facto control of forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey has backed the GNA, while Haftar’s administration has drawn on support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
Outgoing GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj has said he is “fully ready to hand over” power, while Haftar last month offered “the support of the armed forces for the peace process.”
But the new executive faces daunting challenges to unify the country’s institutions, end a decade of fighting marked by international interference and prepare for elections on December 24.
The European Union last week warning it could sanction domestic or foreign “spoilers” who undermine peace efforts.
Dbeibah, 61, a wealthy businessman from the western port city of Misrata, once held posts under Kadhafi but has shown no clear ideological position.
During Kadhafi’s rule, Misrata underwent an industrial and economic boom, from which the Dbeibah family and many others profited.
Dbeibah is also known to be supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and is close to Turkey.
He holds a master’s degree from the University of Toronto in engineering, and his expertise introduced him to Kadhafi’s inner circle and led him to head a company managing huge construction projects.
– Militias and mercenaries –
Dbeibah was considered an outsider compared to other candidates vying for the job, and his election process has been marred by allegations of vote-buying.
But Dbeibah jumped into his role even before his inauguration, including pledging to combat the coronavirus crisis, and taking anti-corruption measures by freezing state-owned investment funds.
But after 42 years of dictatorship under Kadhafi and a decade of violence, the list of challenges is long.
The population of seven million, sitting atop Africa’s largest proven crude oil reserves, is mired in a dire economic crisis, with soaring unemployment, crippling inflation and endemic corruption.
Libya also suffers from wretched public services including regular power cuts and water shortages.
Another key task will be ensuring the departure of an estimated 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters still in the country, who Dbeibah has called “a stab in our back”.
The UN Security Council on Friday called for all foreign forces to leave “without further delay”